RetroSpective – Track & Field (Arcade)
For this review I’m doing something a little different, a review of an original arcade game, and one of the best to boot – Track & Field. Yep not an emulated version, or one of the many ports, but the original arcade cabinet, as I have been lucky enough to have some extensive playtime with a classic right out of an 80s Arcade. Originally released in 1983, Konami’s Track & Field, or Hyper Olympic as it was named in Japan, is a sports game themed around the various events within an Athletic meet, even holding the official licence for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Japan. In fact it was one of the very first games of its kind and popularised many gameplay mechanics that we still see used to this day, as such the gameplay seems to be a nice place to start.
The gameplay is highly diverse and will require constant adaption on the players part, as each of the six events will require a slightly different skill in order to qualify for the next. Not only that but this game requires something that is not normally a requirement for gaming – stamina. Yep for this game you’re going to have the hammer those buttons so hard you may think they’re about to break and by the end of the 100m sprint you may think you’ve run the race yourself. However, don’t think of this as a negative, this is a massive part of the fun, and this is doubled when you take into account playing alongside a friend in competition. There are three buttons on the cabinet, two that make your character run or power up, and one that is used for a special action in certain events such as throwing the javelin or jumping in the long jump. It’s really that simple, and these controls are one of the game’s biggest strengths, but with no tutorial you have to learn fast, and this does lend itself to a lot of failure in the latter events.
As mentioned there are six events, from the hurdles to the hammer throw. However these events move sequentially and you have to meet the qualifying target in order to make it to the next event. As such many people may never reach the fabled High Jump, and even when you do you’ll probably find yourself failing dismally and having to replay the 100m sprint for the umpteenth time. Trust me on that one! Nevertheless once again this is where the game shows it’s quality. As rather than just stop here, you’ll probably find yourself thinking “just one more go”. All in order to work your way back to the later challenge and work out the trick to it, and importantly every time you play a specific event you’ll get a little better, increasing the desire to play on.
Herein lies the longevity of the title. There are many things that just seem to make you want to keep on playing like any classic game should. Not only does the game install the feelings of “just one more go” in order to master the challenges, but just like in the real life athletics, the constantly updating in game “world record” makes you want to keep going to beat the record you set the last time, or even a one set by someone long ago. There’s just something special about leaving your initials on an arcade cabinet for all to see and Track & Field is one to be proud of.
Finally, as you would expect from an arcade title of the time, the presentation is well above bar. Their may not be much in the way of a soundtrack but you can definitely hear the roar of the crowd, alongside the starting countdown and the announcer declaring your time or score. The graphics though are impeccable for a game of its time, especially the characters and the running motion, something which is so vital to a sporting game. Their are many little touches in the presentation as well such as the world record information and the officials measuring your long jump score, all of which just adds to the quality of the game.
All in all Track & Field has embodies everything you would expect from a game representing the world of athletics, not just in presentation, but even more so in it’s simple but intuitive gameplay. Honestly, if you ever have a chance to play the original arcade edition of Track & Field then get out your quarters and give it a go. Trust me you won’t regret it.